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All Rules in Basics from the Core Rulebook

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During the Game

Source PRPG Core Rulebook pg. 402
The bulk of this book provides the rules you need to adjudicate the game and run things, but there are many other problems and events that can come up that require you to think quickly before they become disruptive. Listed here are several of the more common speed bumps and problems that you’ll invariably be called upon to handle during the game.

Cheating and Fudging: We all know that cheating is bad. But sometimes, as a GM, you might find yourself in a situation where cheating might improve the game. We prefer to call this “fudging” rather than cheating, and while you should try to avoid it when you can, you are the law in your world, and you shouldn’t feel bound by the dice. A GM should be impartial and fair, and in theory, that’s what random dice results help support. Some players have trouble putting trust in their GM, but dice offer something that’s irrefutable and truly non-partisan (as long as the dice aren’t doctored or loaded, of course). Still, it’s no good if a single roll of the dice would result in a premature end to your campaign, or a character’s death when they did everything right.

Likewise, don’t feel bound to the predetermined plot of an encounter or the rules as written. Feel free to adjust the results or interpret things creatively—especially in cases where you as the GM made a poor assumption to begin with. For example, you might design an encounter against a band of werewolves, only to realize too late that none of the PCs have silver weapons and therefore can’t hurt them. In this case, it’s okay to cheat and say that these werewolves are hurt by normal weapons, or to have the town guard (armed with silver arrows) show up at the last minute to save the PCs. As long as you can keep such developments to a minimum, these on-thespot adjustments can even enhance the game—so the town guard saved the PCs, but now that they have, it can give you leverage over the PCs to send them on their next quest as repayment to the guards!

Divine Intervention: The literary term for it is deus ex machina—“god from the machine.” This is what happens in a story when a plot device manifests in an unexpected (and usually unsatisfying) way to resolve a story element, typically in a way that renders the actions of the main characters meaningless. Even great authors use deus ex machina to resolve stories now and then, so don’t be afraid to use it in your game if things are looking grim. The town guard rushing in to save the PCs from the werewolves in the previous paragraph is an excellent example of deus ex machina, but so is the old classic of “divine intervention.” In this case, the PCs are faced with an impossible situation and you, as the GM, change the situation so that they can now achieve their goals, perhaps after a PC begs for aid from his deity.

You can quantify divine interventions, if you wish, at the start of a campaign. Tell every player that they get a fixed number of interventions during the campaign (it’s often best to limit this to just one such intervention). Thereafter, the PC can use this divine intervention to save himself or the party, perhaps by preventing an effect that would otherwise cause a character’s death, or to suddenly manifest an escape from a deathtrap. You, as the GM, have full power over how the intervention resolves, of course, so players won’t be able to use divine intervention to bypass plot elements you know they can handle—if a player tries this, simply tell him that his request for intervention is denied and that he can save his intervention for when it’s truly needed.

GM Fiat: The GM is the law of the game. His reading of the rules should be respected and adhered to. It’s easy to get hung up on complicated aspects of the game during play, but the game is never enhanced by long, drawn-out arguments over these complications between players and GM. When complications involving rules interpretations occur, listen to the player and make the decision as quickly as you can on how to resolve the situation. If the rule in question isn’t one you’re familiar with, you can go with the player’s interpretation but with the knowledge that after the game you’ll read up on the rules and, with the next session, will have an official ruling in play. Alternatively, you can simply rule that something works in a way that helps the story move on, despite the most logical or impassioned arguments from the players. Even then, you owe it to your players to spend time after the game researching the rule to make sure your ruling was fair— and if not, make amends the next game as necessary.

One handy rule to keep under your belt is the Fiat Rule—simply grant a player a +2 or a –2 bonus or penalty to a die roll if no one at the table is precisely sure how a situation might be handled by the rules. For example, a character who attempts to trip an iron golem in a room where the floor is magnetized could gain a +2 bonus on his attempt at your discretion, since the magnetic pull exerted by the floor helps pull the golem down.

Handling PC Death: Eventually, through bad luck or bad tactics, a player character is going to die in your game. Other events, such as petrification, paralysis, sleep, and stunning can have a similar effect on the game as PC death, and the following advice should apply to those effects as well.

When a PC dies, his player no longer has any input into the game (unless he has a cohort or other allied NPC he can start playing). That player has to sit at the table quietly, watching and waiting while everyone else continues to have fun with the game. In some cases, the effect is only temporary, with another player able to step in to restore the PC to life (or cure his petrification, remove his paralysis, or whatever), but nevertheless, when a player stops playing the game because his character’s been removed from the action, you as a GM have a problem on your hands.

When such an event occurs, keep going with the game; try to resolve the current conf lict or combat as quickly as possible so that the players can move on to addressing the problem of their dead ally. If there’s no way to restore the dead PC to life and the party needs to retreat to the city to pay for a resurrection, don’t delay that event by forcing the PCs to endure additional wandering monsters; just gloss over the return to civilization as best you can so you can get the unlucky player back into the game as quickly as you can. A PC death is often a great time to end the session, in fact, since you can then handle the resurrection details out of game via email.

If the player of a dead character prefers instead to move on to a new character, let him create his new character at the table. In this case, that player need not sit around bored—the act of creating a new character is involving enough that you can continue to run the game for the surviving PCs, after all. Once the player’s new character is done, let the other players take a 5 or 10 minute break while you step aside to talk to the player and learn about his new character, and to work with the player on a way to introduce the new character into the game as quickly and seamlessly as possible.

One other thing that PC death can do is bloat surviving player treasure. If your group simply splits up the dead PC’s gear or sells it, the surviving players can become obscenely over-geared for their level. If this doesn’t bother you, you should at least work to ensure that the new PC has gear equal in power to that now possessed by the rest of the party. It’s usually a much easier solution to simply assume that the old PC’s gear goes away, either being buried with his body or sent on to his surviving kin. One pretty handy way to solve the situation is to introduce the player’s new character as a prisoner that the PCs rescue, and to have the old PC’s gear be given to the new PC to equip him for the remainder of the adventure. Of course, this isn’t always a graceful solution, but it can be a good one to keep treasure levels under control until the new PC can sell off parts of his old character’s gear to purchase new gear. In this situation, consider letting the PC get full resale value for his gear, since you don’t want to penalize him for losing a character by saddling him with half the gear he used to have.

Rolling Dice: Some GMs prefer to roll all of their dice in front of the players, letting the results fall where they may. Others prefer to make all rolls behind a screen, hiding the results from the PCs so that, if they need to, they can fudge the dice results to make the game do what they want. Neither way is the “correct” way; choose whichever you wish, or even mix and match as feels right for you.

The only time you should not reveal the results of a die roll to the player character is when knowledge of the roll’s result would give the player knowledge he shouldn’t have. A good example of this is saving throws against effects that the player shouldn’t necessarily realize his character has been exposed to (such as a disease or a subtle, long-acting poison).

Troublesome Players: Play the game long enough and eventually you’ll find yourself with a troublemaking player—it’s just an unfortunate fact of any pastime that involves multiple people interacting in a team-oriented event. To a certain extent, you can rely on other players to help mediate problems with a troublemaker, but sometimes you’ll need to step in and ask the player in question to cease his inappropriate behavior. Don’t be afraid to ask the troublemaker to leave the game session if he won’t correct his behavior after a polite but firm request. If tempers are running hot among multiple players, don’t hesitate to call the game session early and break up, giving the players time to cool down and get over the event.

Campaign Journal

All Game Masters should keep a campaign journal. This can be a simple folder containing stacks of paper, a three-ring binder, a PDA, a computer, a tablet, a notebook, or anything else that you can keep notes in. Use this journal to record your thoughts and ideas related to the game as they happen, before, during, and after the game session. As you continue to run campaigns, you’ll doubtless need to expand your journal. Periodically, you should back up your journal, perhaps by copying the contents to a computer and saving them to a DVD, or maybe just by photocopying the contents and stashing the copy in a safe place. Nothing’s more frustrating than losing 3 years of campaign notes due to a crashed hard drive or a natural disaster!

Fair Gameplay

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 59
In a game featuring as many rules and options as the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, the concept of “fairness” has a number of different interpretations. For players, though, fairness largely relates to their interaction with the Pathfinder rules and the group at large.

In terms of the rules of the game, the same aphorisms that held true in grade school remain true during gameplay: No one likes a cheater. In most games with experienced players, the GM doesn’t need to check over every player’s character sheet or double-check the math on every bonus. A game operating on dozens of different subsystems requires honesty and goodwill, as the fun of the game lies in the simulation, not the calculations behind it. Misreporting dice rolls, ignoring a vulnerability, or bending the rules in any of a thousand other ways puts the game’s integrity in jeopardy, and is ultimately pointless— a character’s story is made interesting by the failures as much as by the successes. The danger lies in losing the other players’ trust, forcing the game to slow down when the GM inevitably does note discrepancies, and even potentially being asked to leave a game. Yet even though players may give lip service to these ideas, or the fact that there’s no such thing as “winning” a roleplaying game, sometimes players succumb to temptation, and it’s the GM’s duty to deal with such players quietly, gracefully—and firmly.

Beyond simply obeying the rules, however, fairness can also mean sharing the spotlight equally, and ensuring that all players are getting the chance to perform. While not every player is going to be on the edge of his seat every minute, it’s a GM’s job to watch and see if anyone is hogging the spotlight or being left out. Compromise and sacrifice are needed to keep the game going smoothly, and you should avoid letting players monopolize your attention with their characters’ individual needs or interests. Similarly, sometimes characters are knocked out of combat or killed. Although it’s no fun to sit out for a portion of a session, players should remain positive and understand that sometimes the dice roll against them—and that you as GM will get them back into the action as soon as possible.

Player Knowledge

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 60
Separating the information a player knows from the facts a character possesses regularly proves one of the most difficult challenges players face. “Metagaming,” or making decisions based on player knowledge as opposed to character knowledge, quickly erodes the group’s belief in the world the GM creates. It often frustrates both the GM and other players when an interesting adventure cracks because a given PC acts on information the character has no way of possessing, and such issues should be dealt with quickly and calmly when they come up.

To determine if a character’s action is appropriate, have the player justify his decision using only information the character knows. For example, if no one in-game has mentioned anything about vampires, but the player knows the GM loves vampires or was looking at vampire miniatures earlier, it’s metagaming to have his character stock up on wooden stakes and holy water. If, however, the character remembers the strange marks on the victims’ necks and the fact that all the attacks occurred at night (and perhaps makes a skill check to recall any information he has about monsters fitting those criteria), buying wooden stakes is a perfectly justifiable action.

Metagaming isn’t always intentional. If a player isn’t certain where the line between player knowledge and character knowledge falls, have him explain in-character why he’s making a decision. If he resorts to using game terms or vague statements (or sophisticated concepts that clash with the voice of his Intelligence 7 barbarian), the information likely comes from player knowledge.

This certainly doesn’t mean that characters have to be as dumb as posts, never making decisions unless they are blatantly obvious, but rather that players should strive to process information in the same way their characters would. This is the essence of roleplaying. For example, suppose a wizard character says, “The orc used sneak attack on us—therefore, he’s got to be a rogue, so I won’t cast fireball. I’ll cast charm person instead; he probably has a weak Will save.” This is clearly player knowledge: the player described his reasoning using game terms and rules knowledge. Contrast this with the player instead saying: “The orc is wearing light armor and doing an awful lot of damage with just a short sword. This reminds me of the wererat murderer we fought in Korvosa. That wererat avoided my fireballs like they weren’t even there, so I’m going to try charm person.” Here the player performs exactly the same action, using the same information, but justifies it with character knowledge instead of directly metagaming. Of course, this isn’t an excuse for players to fast-talk their way into metagaming, and if a character has too many justified epiphanies, you may still want to have a talk with the player.

One particularly sticky area of metagaming has nothing to do with game mechanics, but rather realworld knowledge and intelligence. Sometimes the player who’s a genius at solving puzzles and riddles wants to play a dumb brute of a swordsman. This is great—so long as his character isn’t still solving all the puzzles. In this situation (or the reverse, where the player who’s terrible at puzzles has an Intelligence score of 22), let all the players work together to solve the puzzle, but use skill checks and Intelligence checks to offer hints or determine who actually comes up with the solution. Similarly, don’t fall into the trap of letting a player’s knowledge base inform the character’s beyond what’s reasonable. Just because your player knows how to make gunpowder out of bat guano doesn’t mean his uneducated halfling cleric does.

Plot Development

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 61
In real life, players might be justifiably suspicious if a stranger approached them at a bar and offered them money to perform a dangerous task. In a game, however, players who scrutinize plot hooks too closely can cause a GM a lot of stress. These players sometimes make the case that blindly accepting a plot hook (or rushing into battle, or delving into the dungeon) when their character wouldn’t likely do so goes against the whole idea of roleplaying. If the player knows the GM wants him to follow the hook and the player accepts, isn’t that metagaming?

In a way, yes. While a good GM is often capable of presenting incentives and circumstances that allow PCs to float seamlessly and justifiably from encounter to encounter, sometimes the GM needs a little help. In these situations, it’s important for the players to remember that the rule against metagaming is subordinate to the rule about having fun, and if you as the GM need them to work with you, it’s their responsibility to do so.

Thankfully, no matter what the situation, there’s never a time when a creative GM can’t help his players find a believable way to undertake a given action. Though it can be frustrating to deal with a player who stubbornly proclaims, “My character would never do that!”, take a moment to look at the character’s backstory and see if there’s a potential rationalization, or a previously “unrevealed” aspect of the situation that can get the character invested once more. A paladin might normally reject a sinister dark elf ’s offer, but perhaps in this case she pretends to accept in order to find out what the dark elf is up to. Conversely, maybe the drow forgot to mention that there’s several innocent lives at stake, making accepting her offer the only righteous option.

This doesn’t mean that players should always bend over backward to accommodate the GM—if none of the players take to the adventure hook for some unforeseen reason, you’ve failed to adequately read your party, and it’s up to you to repackage the adventure in a more appealing way. Alternatively, if a player genuinely can’t think of a good reason for a character to work toward an adventure’s ends, saying so might spark a lively in-character discussion and lead other characters to convince him.

Obstinacy, however, is one of the quickest ways for a player to kill a campaign. A player who refuses to play his character any way but his own, fails to accommodate other players’ wishes and interests, or insists on heading off on his own is forgetting the cooperative nature of the game. In this case, it’s the GM’s responsibility to intervene and speak privately to the player. If working together to add additional plot elements, or coaching the player in more team-based play, doesn’t succeed in bringing him back in line with the rest of the group, then it might be best for him to create a new character or resign from the gaming group altogether— perhaps taking his headstrong character on a solo adventure.